Mi Compañera

Miriam Pérez

During a time when abortion politics are the wedge issue dividing the social justice movement, some doulas are working across issue lines to provide women with the support they need for all their decisions.

Erin Steuter, head of the sociology department at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, had a doula with her first birth at 27, a doula for her second birth at 30 and she wishes she had had a doula for the abortion she had when she was 18. The role of the doula in childbirth in the United States has become that of a hand holder, back massager, quiet supporter and advocate in a wide variety of birth settings. The doula, a person with non-medical training in labor support, focuses on the emotional and psychological elements of the birth. The doula's role is unique in that she or he is the only person involved in the birth process solely focused on the emotional and psychological status of the mother. Doula care is expanding across the United States as more people become familiar with the concept and more women seek out their services for labor and delivery. As this expansion continues as a part of the wider movement to change the standards of maternity care in the United States (by lowering intervention rates, increasing midwifery care and educating women about birthing options), there are doulas trying to apply their skills to another arena of women's reproductive lifecycle: abortion care.

For some women, the need for emotional support during pregnancy termination is high. Erin explained, "Even though I was very clear in my heart and mind that the abortion was exactly the right thing to do for me at that point in my life, it was nonetheless a very frightening experience. The medical staff at the hospital were not kind to me and there was no discussion about what was happening to my body, it was just a procedure that they were doing to me as coldly and clinically as possible." As the number of providers decreases (it has dropped 37% since 1982) and the number of women having abortions continues to go up, clinics and abortion providers are overextended and under-resourced. Not only are many providers not well equipped to provide adequate support, but the procedure itself can also be a painful one, during which many women are fully or at least partially conscious. Raquel Valentin, Practice Manager for the Family Planning Division at Beth Israel Hospital explained, "Many first trimester abortions are being done with local and moderate sedation. This means that the women are still awake and emotional." The decision to use moderate sedation is based on both the women's choices and the higher risks associated with full anesthesia but can result in an experience that can be both frightening and, at times, painful.

In at least one abortion provider setting, a group of women is looking to provide additional support to women during pregnancy termination. The Birth Sisters, an existing doula program at Boston Medical Center (BMC), is in the process of adding abortion to their already comprehensive list of support services offered. The program, fully funded by the hospital, provides women with support from the early stages of their pregnancy through the postpartum period, often from doulas who can provide culturally competent services to the burgeoning Latino immigrant population served by the Medical Center.

Within the Birth Sisters program, the doulas have developed specialties, which are accompanied by further training in a particular area. Some of the Birth Sisters have specialties in domestic violence, others in breastfeeding. In an effort to meet the needs of women having abortions, the program is looking to expand the program to include compañeras, doulas who would provide this abortion support. The idea is currently in the research stages, and the members of the program have developed a needs assessment that will provide data on what kind of support women who are terminating their pregnancies at BMC need. They plan on having the compañeras meet with the women before the abortion, accompany them during the procedure and then meet with them at periodic increments afterwards as well (two weeks, two months, four months, etc). This mimics the role of a birth doula, who frequently meets with women before and after the birth, and goes beyond the support that most abortion providers currently offer. Dr. Nilda Moreno, an OB/GYN and member of the Birth Sisters program, explained, "We don't only want to provide emotional support but also contraceptive support. We want them to have all the information to prevent unintended pregnancies." Dr. Moreno also explained that the training will be similar to what counselors at Planned Parenthood receive, but with a special focus on emotional support. In addition, they also plan on providing support to women having medication abortions, who usually go home and pass the pregnancy on their own.

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The idea of providing a support person to women during pregnancy termination is not a new one. Planned Parenthoods, other abortion clinics and feminist health centers have a history of trying to provide support to women having abortions, in the form of options counseling and also with accompaniment during the procedure. Other abortion settings provide similar support in the form of specially trained counselors, or patient advocates. When these programs are already providing models for supporting women during abortion procedures, why doulas?

Erin explained why she would have wanted a doula at her abortion: "I feel that a doula would have helped me understand what was happening to my newly pregnant body, the process of the abortion, and the after care for my body." Doulas employ a variety of techniques with women in labor, some that help prepare her mentally for the labor, others that mediate pain, and others that focus on relaxation. Many of these techniques could have useful applications in the support of women during pregnancy terminations, as Erin describes. Explaining how the abortion procedure works is similar to visualization used by doulas during labor, when the doula helps the woman to visualize the baby moving down into the birth canal with the strength of each contraction. These visualizations can help the woman better cope with the pain of labor by enhancing her understanding of the purpose and cause of the pain she is feeling. In addition, pain mediation techniques, like massage, acupressure and breathing could all be helpful for some women during these abortion procedures.

Central to the concept of doula care for abortions is the follow up component. This is where most clinics and providers are unable to provide the longer-term support that a doula could. "I would also have welcomed their support in confirming that my body would, in the future, be ready and able to make a baby and that I would be a good mother when the time was right," Erin says. An important component of birth doula work, this follow-up allows the doula to check in with the woman throughout the months following her abortion, when additional concerns and issues may arise.

Susan Yanow, supporter of the Birth Sisters project and former director of the Abortion Access Project, explained that she sees abortion care as just another service that doulas can provide, in addition to the other areas where they already provide support. "I don't want to carve out abortion in any way that minimizes or maximizes it," she explained. Instead of implying that women who have abortions need a lot of support, this is simply another opportunity to help women within the broader context of doula care. To her it's important that women do not feel that abortion is being stigmatized and that women are not being sent the message that they need support during their abortion. "For some women," Susan reminded me, "all they feel after their abortion is relief."

"The reasons a woman decides to have an abortion are complicated, and her feelings are really complicated. We need to take care of all of it." Susan explained that what she doesn't want to do is send the message that all women need support; and she worries that it will simply add to the stigma that women already feel around abortion. Some women have social networks, family members and friend who will be there for her; some don't need any special attention at all. But for the women who do need it, Susan agrees that it should be available to them. At the Birth Sisters program, a large majority of the women they serve are immigrants from Latin America, many of who are terminating pregnancies that they acquired while crossing the US-Mexico border. These pregnancies can be a result of rapes that are not an uncommon occurrence for immigrants who come into the United States without documents.

For many in the midwifery and doula community, the idea of a doula offering her services to a woman terminating a pregnancy is controversial. Abortion is a topic that is rarely breached at midwifery and doula meetings and conferences, and in many ways has become the elephant in the room of the birthing rights movement. The reasons for this are varied, from a strong religious contingent within doula and midwifery communities to women who feel strongly that they are working on behalf of mothers and babies. A thread in reaction to an article I wrote for Campus Progress about being a radical doula on the site Alldoulas.com provoked an interesting discussion about this issue. One poster explained, "I am an advocate for moms and babies. Aborting babies is totally opposite from that in my view. As much as I believe in a mothers right to choose how she will give birth, I also strongly believe in the baby's right to live. When I was new in this doula work, I started out assuming that most in the childbirth field would naturally be pro-life. It was very hard for me to comprehend how doulas and midwives could be pro-abortion."

One woman and advocate who is working to force abortion advocates and birth activists to dialogue with one another is Lynn Paltrow. Executive Director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), Lynn has been advocating on behalf of pregnant women for most of her career. Last Spring, Lynn and NAPW hosted the Summit for Health and Humanity of Pregnant and Birthing Women in Atlanta, Georgia. What transpired was a gathering of abortion advocates, reproductive rights activists, midwives, doulas and birthing rights academics. Not everyone in the room was in support of abortion. Not everyone in the room understood the benefits of natural childbirth. Lynn explained in her article on TomPaine.com, "Participants moved beyond the divisive abortion debate to find common ground in the experiences of pregnancy and the increasing limitations to care and support that all pregnant and birthing women face." The Birth Sister's Compañera project, along with two other similar abortion doula projects (one in New York City and another in Washington State) arose from conversations that began at the summit.

In the last few years, we have seen the abortion climate in the United States become increasingly hostile. The current administration, including its newly appointed Supreme Court, seems adamant about limiting women's access to abortion procedures. Medical students aren't being trained to do the procedure, yet the need for abortion services remains steady. Some women make the decision to have an abortion within a supportive and loving environment, and they are able to cope well with the emotions that can come along with terminating a pregnancy. But other women make the decision alone, or without the support of a partner or families. It's these women who will benefit the most from having a doula at her side-someone who has no investment in her pregnancy, and simply wants to hold her hand, distract her, make her laugh or explain the procedure to her. But it's also about more than just helping a woman survive that one procedure, it's also about trying to mediate the impact it has on the rest of her reproductive life. "I had a hard first labor," Erin recounted. "I wonder if I had trouble connecting to my birthing body as a result of the abortion experience. Once I worked with a doula for the birth of my two very much wanted and planned children, I could imagine what it would have been like to have a doula at the abortion."

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Republican National Convention Edition

Ally Boguhn

The Trump family's RNC claims about crime and the presidential candidate's record on gender equality have kept fact-checkers busy.

Republicans came together in Cleveland this week to nominate Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention (RNC), generating days of cringe-inducing falsehoods and misleading statements on crime, the nominee’s positions on gender equality, and LGBTQ people.

Trump’s Acceptance Speech Blasted for Making False Claims on Crime

Trump accepted the Republican nomination in a Thursday night speech at the RNC that drew harsh criticism for many of its misleading and outright false talking points.

Numerous fact-checkers took Trump to task, calling out many of his claims for being “wrong,” and “inflated or misleading.”

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 Among the most hotly contested of Trump’s claims was the assertion that crime has exploded across the country.

“Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement,” Trump claimed, according to his prepared remarks, which were leaked ahead of his address. “Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60 percent in nearby Baltimore.”

Crime rates overall have been steadily declining for years.

“In 2015, there was an uptick in homicides in 36 of the 50 largest cities compared to the previous years. The rate did, indeed, increase nearly 17 percent, and it was the worst annual change since 1990. The homicide rate was up 54.3 percent in Washington, and 58.5 percent in Baltimore,” explained Washington Post fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee. “But in the first months of 2016, homicide trends were about evenly split in the major cities. Out of 63 agencies reporting to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, 32 cities saw a decrease in homicides in first quarter 2016 and 31 saw an increase.”

Ames Grawert, a counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, said in a statement posted to the organization’s website that 2016 statistics aren’t sufficient in declaring crime rate trends. 

“Overall, crime rates remain at historic lows. Fear-inducing soundbites are counterproductive, and distract from nuanced, data-driven, and solution-oriented conversations on how to build a smarter criminal justice system in America,” Grawert said. “It’s true that some cities saw an increase in murder rates last year, and that can’t be ignored, but it’s too early to say if that’s part of a national trend.” 

When Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, was confronted with the common Republican falsehoods on crime during a Thursday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he claimed that the FBI’s statistics were not to be trusted given that the organization recently advised against charges in connection with Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

“According to FBI statistics, crime rates have been going down for decades,” Tapper told Manafort. “How can Republicans make the argument that it’s somehow more dangerous today when the facts don’t back that up?”

“People don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods,” said Manafort, going on to claim that “the FBI is certainly suspect these days after what they did with Hillary Clinton.”

There was at least one notable figure who wholeheartedly embraced Trump’s fearmongering: former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. “Great Trump Speech,” tweeted Duke on Thursday evening. “Couldn’t have said it better!”

Ben Carson Claims Transgender People Are Proof of “How Absurd We Have Become”

Former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson criticized the existence of transgender people while speaking at the Florida delegation breakfast on Tuesday in Cleveland.  

“You know, we look at this whole transgender thing, I’ve got to tell you: For thousands of years, mankind has known what a man is and what a woman is. And now, all of a sudden we don’t know anymore,” said Carson, a retired neurosurgeon. “Now, is that the height of absurdity? Because today you feel like a woman, even though everything about you genetically says that you’re a man or vice versa?”

“Wouldn’t that be the same as if you woke up tomorrow morning after seeing a movie about Afghanistan or reading some books and said, ‘You know what? I’m Afghanistan. Look, I know I don’t look that way. My ancestors came from Sweden, or something, I don’t know. But I really am. And if you say I’m not, you’re a racist,’” Carson said. “This is how absurd we have become.”

When confronted with his comments during an interview with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric, Carson doubled down on his claims.“There are biological markers that tell us whether we are a male or a female,” said Carson. “And just because you wake up one day and you say, ‘I think I’m the other one,’ that doesn’t change it. Just, a leopard can’t change its spots.”

“It’s not as if they woke up one day and decided, ‘I’m going to be a male or I’m going to be a female,’” Couric countered, pointing out that transgender people do not suddenly choose to change their gender identities on a whim.

Carson made several similar comments last year while on the campaign trail.

In December, Carson criticized the suggested that allowing transgender people into the military amounted to using the armed services “as a laboratory for social experimentation.”

Carson once suggested that allowing transgender people to use the restroom that aligned with their gender identity amounted to granting them “extra rights.”

Ivanka Trump Claims Her Father Supports Equal Pay, Access to Child Care

Ivanka Trump, the nominee’s daughter, made a pitch during her speech Thursday night at the RNC for why women voters should support her father.

“There have always been men of all background and ethnicities on my father’s job sites. And long before it was commonplace, you also saw women,” Ivanka Trump said. “At my father’s company, there are more female than male executives. Women are paid equally for the work that we do and when a woman becomes a mother, she is supported, not shut out.” 

“As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce. And he will focus on making quality child care affordable and accessible for all,” she continued before pivoting to address the gender wage gap. 

“Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties; they should be the norm. Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career.”

However, Trump’s stated positions on the gender wage gap, pregnancy and mothers in the workplace, and child care don’t quite add up to the picture the Trumps tried to paint at the RNC.

In 2004, Trump called pregnancy an “inconvenience” for employers. When a lawyer asked for a break during a deposition in 2011 to pump breast milk, Trump reportedly called her “disgusting.”

According to a June analysis conducted by the Boston Globe, the Trump campaign found that men who worked on Trump’s campaign “made nearly $6,100, or about 35 percent more [than women during the April payroll]. The disparity is slightly greater than the gender pay gap nationally.”

A former organizer for Trump also filed a discrimination complaint in January, alleging that she was paid less than her male counterparts.

When Trump was questioned about equal pay during a campaign stop last October, he did not outline his support for policies to address the issue. Instead, Trump suggested that, “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” Though he had previously stated that men and women who do the same job should be paid the same during an August 2015 interview on MSNBC, he also cautioned that determining whether people were doing the same jobs was “tricky.”

Trump has been all but completely silent on child care so far on the campaign trail. In contrast, Clinton released an agenda in May to address the soaring costs of child care in the United States.

Ivanka’s claims were not the only attempt that night by Trump’s inner circle to explain why women voters should turn to the Republican ticket. During an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Manafort said that women would vote for the Republican nominee because they “can’t afford their lives anymore.”

“Many women in this country feel they can’t afford their lives, their husbands can’t afford to be paying for the family bills,” claimed Manafort. “Hillary Clinton is guilty of being part of the establishment that created that problem. They’re going to hear the message. And as they hear the message, that’s how we are going to appeal to them.”

What Else We’re Reading

Vox’s Dara Lind explained how “Trump’s RNC speech turned his white supporters’ fear into a weapon.”

Now that Mike Pence is the Republican nominee for vice president, Indiana Republicans have faced “an intense, chaotic, awkward week of brazen lobbying at the breakfast buffet, in the hallways and on the elevators” at the convention as they grapple with who will run to replace the state’s governor, according to the New York Times.

“This is a party and a power structure that feels threatened with extinction, willing to do anything for survival,” wrote Rebecca Traister on Trump and the RNC for New York Magazine. “They may not love Trump, but he is leading them precisely because he embodies their grotesque dreams of the restoration of white, patriarchal power.”

Though Trump spent much of the primary season denouncing big money in politics, while at the RNC, he courted billionaires in hopes of having them donate to supporting super PACs.

Michael Kranish reported for the Washington Post that of the 2,472 delegates at the RNC, it is estimated that only 18 were Black.

Cosmopolitan highlighted nine of the most sexist things that could be found at the convention.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) asked, “Where are these contributions that have been made” by people of color to civilization?